Chris bounced over the spongy clouds, his pole sweeping in front of him like a blind man’s cane. The tower grew in his vision, but it was still unnecessarily far away. Probably because the System wanted to be… wait for it… a dick. What a surprise.
If anything, it firmed his resolve to continue progressing at a measured pace. The pole emitted rhythmic audible feedback as it touched solid cloud again and again. Until it didn’t.
Chris kept on walking for two more steps, lost in the rhythm of tap-walk-tap, until he realized what had happened. There was a pitfall in front of him, just waiting for him to plunge through it to his death. He didn’t even see the point of doing so, except for killing those who didn’t cultivate an overgrown sense of suspicion. That was perhaps a goal in itself.
More suspicion meant less trust, less trust meant more death.
He swept the pole around until he found solid cloud, traced a line from it to his feet, then kept on making his way toward the Tower of the Manifold Adept.
He came across three more pitfalls before he reached the smooth walls of the white and gold tower. He looked around. No door. Was it on the other side?
Chris frowned. The System wanted people dead, sure, but it didn’t seem so childish as to inconvenience people. That didn’t seem to fit with its agenda, as Chris currently understood it.
It clearly wanted to expand, and it wanted Anomalies cleared. It wanted humanity dead, or so it seemed. But why humanity, in particular? There wasn’t much remarkable about humans, except for their incredible potential to lewd anything with two legs and a pulse. Or anything with neither—case in point: Blibl.
So, not killing humans in particular, or not necessarily destroying the species. If it wanted humanity dead, Chris had no doubts they would all be dead. Threshed down then? For what purpose.
The System wanted to foster suspicion and acrimony. Was that it? Have all the races of the multiverse put humanity through the thresher in the desperate struggle for resources and spaces in the tutorial. What next? Create powerful survivors? He wasn’t sure. If the System didn’t want more humans, it wouldn’t have brought them all here. But beyond that, its motives became more and more opaque.
He didn’t want to go down that rabbit hole anyway, too much time spent thinking was time not spent beating the Tower of the Manifold Adept into a bloody pulp.
He gave the Settlement Core tattoo on his wrist a quick glance. Nope. Still inhibited. System didn’t want him using it here.
He rapped on the tower wall with his knuckles. It was stone, through and through. Was he meant to knock a hole into it to enter?
Chris grinned, he could do that. It would beat going around. It was hammer time.
He drew his black metal hammer back, then paused as a flash of gold caught his eye. A girdle of spinning golden scrollwork descended from above, circling the tower like a gilded garter. It spun too fast to make out individual details, the gleaming figures patterned upon it lost in a flowing movement of one image to another.
And, as it spun, an image began to manifest. Like a spinning lampshade casting shadows on a wall, so too did the patterns of the descending golden girdle form a semblance of a moving image.
The Manifold Adept was born of a world broken. A planet shattered by errant cosmic power. Its shards hung like raindrops around the cooling planetary core, which itself hung lonely around a barren star.
A broken race scrambled from broken shard to broken shard, turning over stones to find twisted scraps of old glory to trade for air and food. Scrappers. To a broken world, the Manifold Adept was born.
Hers no tale of luck and daring, no ode of combat, no rhyme of quick wit and sharp tongue. She was born frail in a crumbling Ruinhold, to a mother already dead. Born of the dead, binder of life. Hers a glory of quick feet and deft hands. She grew from frail babe to frail stripling. She moved like wind long lost to shattered planet and cooling core—gravity himself could not catch her.
A youth of leaping from Ruinhold to Ruinhold—each kept aloft by the same cruel energies that held the wreckage of an old world suspended above the planet’s heart of dying iron. Her feet could find purchase on air itself, and on light when there was none. She spun across the sky in motions unmatched, finding treasure in places unreached.
In her youth, the Manifold Adept was a Scrapper.
In her age, an artisan unrivaled.
But she had been born a dancer.
The story ended too soon. The golden girdle touched down with a whisper and upward puff of cloud. Images brought to life by motion faded back into chaos as the spinning stilled. Chris reached out to touch the golden scrollwork, loss tugging at his chest. His heart leapt as the golden veins shifted and swirled once more. The story did not return, but curves and lines of gold moved into alignment over white stone.
Slowly, the gold rearranged into the image of a Slime Battle Alchemist. How he knew it was a Slime Battle Alchemist, Chris did not know. But it was. Every line and curve evoked mutability and recombination, merging and morphing, adding to the self to become more.
Chris wondered how much that gold was worth, and whether the tower was the same as countless other System races had visited. How many hands had touched it, knowing its value, and left it be, all the same—in the hope that, one day, it would move for them once more.
What would he do to preserve it? Chris had no answer. He didn’t even feel like finding a way to break the tower. It just wasn’t worth it.
However, as he stepped forward, into the Tower of the Manifold Adept, he finally felt he knew what the System wanted of humanity. It didn’t want them dead. For whatever reason, it wanted them to have something worth dying for.
The last of the golden lines clicked into place before him. Stone melted away from behind the gilt lattice, and moments later parts of the metallic working of the Slime Battle Alchemist swung inwardly open like a wrought-iron gate. The opening was dark, unnaturally so.
Chris paused. What would he find in there?
Quickly, he shrugged off his backpack and rummaged around inside, looking for his potions. His hands touched glass and for a moment he thought he had found them, but the plane of the glass’ curve was too shallow. Those were his special jars.
He continued feeling through his pack, passing several more special jars before he found all six of his potion vials. With a bit of effort, he finally extricated his hand from the bag, then tested placing the first inside of himself.
Okay, maybe he shouldn’t think of it in quite those terms.
The Slime of his arm rippled and parted as he pushed the vial inside—into his Slime-replicated bones, where the marrow should be. That would interfere least with his arm’s functionality. He withdrew his left hand and the Slime rolled back into place. He flexed his arm. All good.
If Blibl could function while doing something similar, he’d probably be fine as well. Quickly, like slotting in shotgun shells, he added the remaining five cartridges into his bones. He could have his Slime dissolve the stoppers when he was ready to use them.
Another flex. Still good. He cleared out the mana from around his meridians, put his gauntlet back on, slung on his backpack. He stepped inside, hammer and shield at the ready.
Darkness swallowed him for a moment. He kept on walking and suddenly found himself within a jungle.
As if waiting for him to appear, a spotted, cat-like creature launched itself from a nearby thicket.
Chris swatted it away, sending its broken form crashing it into a tree. He walked over to it, keeping an eye out. He had made sure his arm was already fed, but he moved toward it in order to get an extra snack. Better too much than too little.
There was a path leading deeper into the jungle, he had to leave that to reach the downed monster.
He was glad he did. His arm buzzed suddenly, indicating a Soul Gem inside the monster. His arm oozed out between cracks in his gauntlet and spread over the cat’s hide, peeling away layer after layer of skin, flesh, and bone until he found it. A small crystal inside the creature.
But this one was odd, unlike others of its kind, it was deep, radiant—complex.
Class Skill Gem
Name: Alchemical Sustenance
He got a feeling from it, the idea of consuming potions to survive. Beyond the simple concept—which was far too niche—the feeling transmitted felt weak and lacking in depth. It felt like his arm still wanted it though, so he fed the Skill Gem to it. Nothing happened. No absorption. Well, the Assimilation trait did say that the chance of that happening was rare.
He stood and moved on, returning to the path and continuing on down it. Maybe stronger monsters inside the tower would have better Skill Gems.